A few weeks ago, Terri and I were shopping along the waterfront area of downtown Beaufort. While walking along Bay Street, we happened across as a little storefront, Go Fish® Clothing and Jewelry. The name captured my attention and we went inside. We noticed there were many kinds of handmade items from artisans all around world, including hand-crafted wooden animals, blown glass figurines, hand-made clothing, and all types of jewelry. Alongside each display was a portrait of the family who had made the product, as well as a description of the country in which the family lives. Go Fish® purchases the items that are sold in stores from the indigenous peoples of developing nations. The prices that are paid for the items are never argued. Merchandise is bought at the family’s asking price. The mission of Go Fish® is to give the indigenous people dignity and respect by highlighting their creativity and skill, while providing a sustainable livelihood for the family. I found it refreshing that amid stores selling everything from swimsuits to real estate, a company living out its missional calling exists. You can read more about Go Fish® and their work here.
Today is Christmas. Much will happen today. Children will open gifts from under the tree that have taunted them for weeks. Families will gather today with those they have not seen in a very long time. Many will gather in houses of worship to celebrate the reason for the season. For the most part, the thoughts and focus of today will be on cultural traditions and not on the true meaning of why there is Christmas in the first place. We would not be the first ones to miss out on the reason for Christmas. In the Casting Crowns song, “While You Were Sleeping”, they write:
Oh little town of Bethlehem
Looks like another silent night
Above your deep and dreamless sleep
A giant star lights up the sky
And while you’re lying in the dark
There shines an everlasting light
For the King has left His throne
And is sleeping in a manger tonight
Oh Bethlehem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
For God became a man
And stepped into your world today
Oh Bethlehem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping
Bethlehem was physically sleeping. While the residents of Bethlehem slept, the Son of God was born into the world among them. While the residents of Bethlehem slept, the Savior of the world was born in a lowly stable with no fan fare, no attention, and no honor due a King. While the residents of Bethlehem slept, the landscape of the known world, and those to come, changed forever. The residents of Bethlehem secured a place for themselves in history as “a city with no room for its King.” They go on to write:
Oh little town of Jerusalem
Looks like another silent night
The Father gave His only Son
The Way, the Truth, the Life had come
But there was no room for Him in the world He came to save
Jerusalem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
The Savior of the world is dying on your cross today
Jerusalem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping
Jerusalem was spiritually sleeping. Thirty-plus years later, people were sleeping. This time, the residents of Jerusalem slept while the Son of God hung on a cross. The residents of Jerusalem slept while Jesus died for their sin. The residents of Jerusalem slept while the Messiah, the One the religious leaders were looking for and ought to have recognized, gave His life for the people who cried “Crucify Him.” He came as their writings and witnesses said He would. He had walked among them. He performed miracles. He taught. He loved. He testified of an for the Father. He yielded. He died. All for this while no one seemed to care. The residents of Jerusalem secured a place for themselves in history as “a city with no room for its King.”
Before we take the residents of Bethlehem and Jerusalem to task on their failure to understand the mission and person of Jesus Christ, notice again the words of Casting Crowns.
United States of America
Looks like another silent night
As we’re sung to sleep by philosophies
That save the trees and kill the children
And while we’re lying in the dark
There’s a shout heard ‘cross the eastern sky
For the Bridegroom has returned
And has carried His bride away in the night
America, what will we miss while we are sleeping
Will Jesus come again
And leave us slumbering where we lay
America, will we go down in history
As a nation with no room for its King
Will we be sleeping
Will we be sleeping
As a nation we are sleeping today. In the middle of the day, we’re sleeping. With the sun shining bright and eyes wide open, we’re sleeping. With the complete thoughts and mind God written for us that reveals our sin, points us to the cross, and calls us to die to self, we’re sleeping. Lullabies of tolerance, coexistence, and compromise rock a nation to sleep every night. Lullabies of “many paths to God”, “man is his own god”, and “feed what makes you feel good” enable a nation to peacefully sleep. Violence, hate, and greed are the most newsworthy items of our day. Most troubling is the fact that America seems to be sleeping well. What will it take to stir this nation from its sleep? What will happen to our nation if we continue to sleep? How long before God Himself says “that’s enough” and the Bridegroom splits the sky to receive His own? Will the residents America secure for themselves a place in history as “a city with no room for its King”?
Today is Christmas. We are reminded of the Luke’s words regarding this day. “Then the angel said to them, Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”.
No school. Longer days. Scorching heat. This can only mean one thing – Summer. For families, it is a time for vacations, cookouts, and road trips – good things. For families, it is also a time of bored children and interrupted schedules – bad things. The things that are good for the family during the summer are in turn bad for the church. As families travel, attendance decreases in scheduled worship times. As families spend more time together, less time is spent in church ministry. This poses a difficulty for churches. Does the church accept the fact that summer is going to be a time of little or no activity, or does it take advantage of the season? At Port Royal Baptist Church, we take advantage of the summer season. Summer is our most productive season of ministry because we place a high value on summer ministry. Here’s why.
- School is out. There is a natural tendency for families to scatter with preexisting schedules being set aside for three months. It is our desire to give families something meaningful they can do together.
- Historically, churches take one of two positions during the summer: scale down or shut down. It is our desire to shatter the expectation that the church will be less effective during the summer by offering meaningful service opportunities. Although summer is a time of declining attendance, it doesn’t have to be that way. Meaning summer ministry is our way of reversing the tide.
- The community is very active during the summer. People are moving about the beaches, farmer’s markets, and community festivals. It is our desire to be active alongside them. We believe in discovering where the community is meeting and joining them.
Two things are important in making summer ministry important at Port Royal Baptist Church.
- Summer Family Ministry Challenge. Instead of surrendering the summer, we challenge our families to serve together. Our theme for 2016 will be “The Summer 70” and will run from June 11th – August 20th. Over the course of 70 days, there will be 14 service opportunities in 7 different locations. These ministries are varied: daytime and evening, weekday, and weekend. These ministries involve different skills and abilities, demographics, and ministry approaches. We intentionally schedule opportunities that allows the entire family to participate.
- Summer Sermon Series. I do something as a pastor during the summer that goes against all conventional wisdom. I break the unwritten rule: do not start anything new during the summer. During the summer, I lead our church in a sermon series that lasts about 10 weeks. I do this because it serves a connection point for our people. I want them to feel as if they missed something by not being there. The feedback has been good.
You may ask, “Isn’t that a lot for people to feel they have to be involved in?” Good question. Our philosophy for missions and community outreach is simple. We don’t want you to be involved in everything. It’s not possible. We ask that each one find the ministry that meets their passion and then give their heart and energy to it.
Within every profession, service industry, and organization, there are secret languages understood only by its members. If you don’t believe me, just walk into a Starbucks and listen to the patrons order their favorite drink. You are likely to hear a combination of words and phrases that would lead you to believe aliens have landed from the far side of the moon. For example, my usual order at Starbucks sounds like this, “I’ll have a Venti bold with no room”. What I am saying to the barista is this, “I will have your largest and strongest coffee, and by the way, I do not need room for cream.” Businesses such as these have created an environment that requires the consumer to learn a language that is specific to the product they wish to consume. This may or may not be intentional. What they are saying is this “If you want to be part of our ‘group’ then you need to learn our language.” Sound unfair? Hold on. What about the church?
Before we blame the businesses for requiring us to learn a foreign language, let’s take a look at how the Christian church may be guilty. I believe many would agree that Christians have a specific lingo that we are comfortable with. We use phrases and words that we are comfortable with that may leave the first-time guest in our services scratching their head and asking “what are they talking about?” We use words such as advent, apostle, disciple, rapture, righteous, sanctification, elect, trinity, covenant, redemption, and salvation much like we would car, home, cheeseburger, chair, or grass. Phrases such as washed in the blood, give your heart to Jesus, profession of faith, and walk down the aisle roll off our church-influenced tongues the same way turn off the light, answer the phone, and wash the car do. Think of the questions that must run through the mind of the person who has never been in church before. Inside they may be asking, “Is that going to hurt?” “You’re asking me to do what?” “Is that legal?” I may be exaggerating a bit, but I think you get my point.
As a pastor, I believe the church has a responsibility to remove barriers that may keep individuals who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ from coming to know Him. Barriers such as personal preferences, fear, and past hurts are hard enough to overcome without imposing a new language for which Rosetta Stone hasn’t even written software. I am becoming increasingly aware, and fearful, that the guests in our worship services have no idea what we are talking about. What should we do? First, it is important to acknowledge the fact that we are guilty of speaking “church”. Second, I believe that every ministry leader, when writing announcements, newsletters, and ministry promotions, should filter everything through this question; “Will the words that I have written and spoken be clearly understood by someone who has never been in church before?” We owe it to the first-time guest, the seeker, and the Christian desperately desiring to serve the Lord our commitment to remove the barriers that would hinder them, including our “church” talk.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,600 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.
Disclaimer: The thoughts, beliefs, and conclusions drawn belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Port Royal Baptist Church.
Politics are not in my wheelhouse. I rarely venture into the political arena and make every attempt to not be drawn into public political debates. With that being said, my head is stuck in the sand either. I believe that part of my responsibility as a pastor is to educate my congregation on “how” they should vote based on God’s Word instead of telling them “who” to vote for. In my opinion, voting is one of the most genuine and sincere activities of the conscience. Our country is in the middle of another presidential election cycle. There are more candidates vying for the office of president than I have ever seen in my lifetime. One candidate has been, and continues to be, especially vocal and polarizing: Donald Trump. His “no holds barred, tell it like it is, truth speech” has galvanized many of his supporters while alienating many more. You either love him or hate him. He has no problem letting the media know where he stands on any given topic and does so very matter-of-factually. In itself that is not a bad thing.
Over the past month, our world has witnessed terror attacks in Beirut, France, and just this week, California. It has been concluded that these attacks were the acts of Islamic extremists or those with link to similar groups. Candidates have spoken against the attacks and have attempted to reassure the public that terrorism will be defeated and how they would go about doing that if elected. Donald Trump has been especially vocal on this subject stating that our country should go to great lengths to defeat terrorism. I could not agree more. Our agreement ends there.
In recent weeks Donald Trump has offered two startling and extreme measures to protect America from terrorism. First, he has called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Second, he said that he was “open to establishing a database for all Muslims living in the U.S.” On one hand, this may sound good to many Americans: don’t let them in and track the ones who are already here. He has mistakenly connected the dots by saying that, in essence, we were attacked by Muslims so all Muslims must be guilty. On the other hand, his statements and positions are at odds with the gospel and serve to further jeopardize religious liberty, an already endangered species.
Let me say this lest my theological convictions be called into question. I believe that Islam is a false religion. I believe that adherents to Islam are lost and headed toward an eternal separation from God unless Jesus saves them. They serve a god that cannot save them. They serve a god who offers them no hope at all. They serve a god that does not care for them personally. I believe the same thing applies to the adherents of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christian Science and any other religious system that denies the exclusivity and divinity of Jesus Christ. Within the Islamic/Middle Eastern economy, Islam (religion) and Muslims (people/nationality) are essentially the same thing. The gospel of Jesus Christ allows and admonishes me to see that there is a difference. It is through the gospel that I can see the truth that many Muslims (people/nationality) are trapped in Islam (religion). In the same way that every German (people/nationality) was not a Nazi (political party), and every American (people/nationality) is not a Baptist, Methodist, or Atheist (religion), every Muslim is not automatically an Islamic extremist or terrorist.
Let me say this lest my national allegiance be called into question. I’m proud to be an American. I served in our military and fought for this country as a Marine. I believe our government should make every legal and reasonable effort to protect its citizens from harm. That is the duty of government. I have no problem with refusing entry into this country any person (Muslim, Hindu, Christian, etc.) who has made credible threats to the safety of this nation or who has close ties with groups that want to harm this nation. A database to track Muslims within the United States, for no other reason than a person is Muslim, is no different than the Nazi’s numbering the Jews during World War II, for no other reason than a person being Jewish. It was an offensive proposition then and it is an equally offensive proposition today.
I believe there are at least two unintended consequences to the actions that Donald Trump advocates.
- The physical safety of our missionaries around the world, especially those in predominantly Muslim countries could be compromised. I didn’t expect Trump or his campaign to think through this possibility. Why would he? Is it worth risking physical harm to every American missionary who may be unfairly stereotyped by Trump’s comments?
- The bridges of trust that have been built over the decades between missionaries and the Muslim communities they serve and share the gospel among may come crashing down around them. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for our missionaries to work and labor in Muslim countries. The work is difficult enough without the Muslim communities being given a reason to doubt the sincerity and love of the missionaries who live among them. It is the gospel that runs along these bridges. It would be a tragedy to see the gospel be hindered because of something as ridiculous as an ill-informed blanket statement by a presidential candidate.
The denomination in which I choose to participate, the Southern Baptist Convention, has spoken to the issue of religious liberty in its statement of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message. The section reads in part, “A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.” In its simplest terms, religious liberty says that you have the right to believe whatever you choose and to worship the same, even if I disagree with you. On the other hand, I have the same right. Government must be careful to not penalize law-abiding citizens, even law-abiding Muslim citizens for pursuing their religious convictions formed by their God-given conscience. The same protection we desire must be extended as well. If you truly value religious liberty, not just your own religious liberty, but religious liberty as a whole, then God’s Word must shape your decisions, not fear-induced rhetoric that sounds good in a sound bite.
I believe the term “prophetic” is overused today. With that being said, if the statement made earlier in the week by Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, doesn’t speak in prophetic fashion to the slippery slope we’re on in terms of religious liberty, nothing does. He wrote:
“Make no mistake. A government that can shut down mosques simply because they are mosques can shut down Bible studies because they are Bible studies. A government that can close the borders to all Muslims simply on the basis of their religious belief can do the same thing for evangelical Christians. A government that issues ID badges for Muslims simply because they are Muslims can, in the fullness of time, demand the same for Christians because we are Christians. We are in a time of war, and we should respond as those in a time of war. But we must never lose in a time of war precious freedoms purchased through the blood of patriots in years past. We must have security and we must have order. But we must not trade soul freedom for an illusion of winning.”
It seems that almost daily there is a new study Bible on the market. Each one proposes to offer something special and significant that the others do not. At times, many fail to deliver on the promise of something fresh and new. The NKJV Foundation Study Bible is one of those new study Bibles that has been recently released. I really like the style of the NKJV. It is the version that I use in my pulpit ministry. It reads very well in the modern language but holds to the word structure and thought of the KJV. The NKJV Foundational Study Bible is not like other Bibles seeing that it does not attempt to give exhaustive study notes. It has a simple layout with cross-references and section titles that you would expect in a study Bible. I really enjoyed the size of this Bible. It measures approximately 8-3/4” tall, 5-3/4” wide, and 1-7/8” thick, significantly smaller and lighter than most Bibles. Individual book introductions are short and provide necessary information on the high parts of each book. This Bible does a great job of enticing the reader to want to go somewhere else and dig deeper.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”